Where else does one start a blog about herbs but with the almighty Urtica dioca, a.k.a the one and only, stingingly special Nettle. Most herbalists I’ve met get a goofy smile on their face whenever they speak of Nettles, and there is good reason – a plethora of them actually.
The first time I harvested Nettles it was early in the Spring a couple years back. They were still low to the ground, soft and young. The patch we harvested from was incredibly prolific. From afar, it looked like a big green cloud sitting on the earth. It truly is plain to the eye how abundant this plant is in chlorophyll – it is just that green. It also happens to contain more vitamins and minerals than almost any other plant that grows. To quote Susun Weed, “The list of vitamins and minerals in this herb includes nearly every one known to be necessary for human health and growth. Particularly we find Vitamins A, C, D and K, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, iron and sulphur.”
Aside from their super vitamin content, Nettles have been used for centuries as a gentle diuretic and nourisher of the kidneys. They have a long history in the treatment of arthritis. They are an ally for anyone who suffers from anemia and for expecting moms, a wonderful source of much needed iron and calcium.
My favorite way to consume Nettles is as tea or an infusion (a strong tea brewed for ten minutes to several hours). Prepared in this way the herb is basically a liquid multivitamin. Steep for a couple hours and the infusion will become a dark green to black color, which one of my teachers calls Nettle-milk, as the brew becomes so nutrient rich it almost feels thick going down. For times I like a lighter tea, I steep for ten minutes with other vitamin rich teas such as Tulsi, Oatstraw or Red Clover. During allergy season I like to use it with local Goldenrod, and when I am premenstrual there is nothing like a little Nettle and Raspberry leaf love.
Often when I tell folks of my affairs with Nettles, they look at me a bit perplexed. This is because if you know the plant out of the context of Herbalism, you probably know it best for its sting. The leaves and stems of Nettles are lined with hollow stinging hairs. The tips of these hairs come off when touched, producing a sting in the process. I actually enjoy the sting and the tingling sensation it creates; it delivers a shot of histamine and a slew of other neurotransmitters, including the happiness helper serotonin.
Ok, salad might not boost so well at the dinner table, but blanching or drying the leaves will remove the sting and make it safe for ingestion. However, if you ever get brave enough to eat the plant raw, you could prance on over to the UK and take part in the Stinging Nettle Eating Championship. I’m not kidding. Apparently this yearly competition dates back to 1986 when two neighboring farmers attempted to settle a dispute as to who had the worst infestation of nettles. While I am quite a fan of stinging my hands and arms when harvesting the plant, I’m not quite sure I’m ready to take it to the tongue – maybe soon. I’ll keep you posted if I get that nettleventurous. In the meantime, I say drink up.